Sunday, 12 June 2016

Article in the Dipper

Many thanks to Mike and Jackie Pointon who submitted the following article to the 2016 summer edition of  "The Dipper", the newsletter of the Gwent Ornithological Society

Nest boxes for Swifts in Bedwas                                                     Mike and Jackie Pointon


The sight and sound of Swifts flying over the village of Bedwas was one of the joys of summer. Sadly in recent years the numbers have diminished and last year only three pairs bred here. The birds nested on the eaves of older buildings, in particular the Junior School and Police Station. There were often more Swifts about in early May than actually stayed to breed so Jackie and I had the idea that nest boxes might boost the number breeding at the school.

Alison Jones, Caerphilly County Ecologist, was contacted and we met up at the school to view the site and discuss the idea with the headmaster Mr. Warren. Bedwas Junior School is a Green School and the idea of nest boxes was greeted with enthusiasm. Katie Hillier, a teacher at the school, agreed to coordinate activities. Alison suggested that Andy Wilkinson, Senior Environment Ranger for Caerphilly Borough Council, get involved and he came to the school to make nest boxes with the pupils. This activity was a great success and the pupils were very proud of their nest box building, making boxes for Blue Tits as well as Swifts. The school had by this time purchased three Swift nest boxes from the RSPB and it was time to get them installed. Kate Hillier managed to persuade Caerphilly County Borough Council maintenance department to carry out this work and on Friday 18th March five nest boxes for Swifts were erected. The nest holes were intially covered up and opened on 1st May.

Prior to housing development in the village Lesser Whitethroats were regular breeders. Since that time also the number of House Martins has reduced dramatically and there is no longer a local Sand Martin colony on the River Rhymney.

On 11th May BBC Radio Wales came to Bedwas Junior School having heard about the Swift nest box project via Alan Rosney, the Glamorgan Bird Club Swift Champion. (Alan not having a swift nest box site in Glamorgan asked Jackie and me if he could use the Bedwas Junior School project which, is actually in the Gwent recording area). Swift nest boxes San Frontiers!

On the day the Swifts must have been informed that the Beeb were in town as they put on a tremendous display, calling and flying low over the school. Pauline Smith of BBC Wales interviewed the pupils and their teacher Katie Hillier. The children were delighted to be involved and get their chance to be on the radio. Pauline then interviewed Alan and myself to give some background on the project and specific information on Swifts. The programme Country Focus was broadcast on Sunday 15th may at 07:03 and is available on BBC iplayer for a further month.

Currently there are eight Swift in Bedwas (last year there were six) and we have seen them using the traditional nest sites in the school , though none have yet been seen occupying the nest boxes.

On Thursday 19th May Jackie and I met up with Kerry Galey from Caerphilly County Borough Councils parks department. Kerry is the warden of the Rhymney River Walk which passes through Bedwas and Trethomas. We had suggested to Kerry that we should encourage Sand Martins back to nest in the area as they did at one time. We located a likely looking spot and plans are now afoot to create suitable nesting habitat ready for next year.

It has been rewarding for everyone concerned to attempt to boost the number of Swifts breeding in Bedwas. We must wait now to see if the project is a success. It has already been agreed, if things work out well, that a camera should be put in one of the boxes ready for next year so that the pupils can view the secret world of Swifts.

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